How Do Insects Breathe and Do They Have Lungs?

How Do Insects Breathe?

The Respiratory System of Bugs

Insects, like people, require oxygen to live and produce carbon dioxide as a waste product. That, however, is where the similarity between the insect and human respiratory systems essentially ends. Insects do not have lungs, nor do they transport oxygen through a circulatory system in the manner that humans do. Instead, the insect respiratory system relies on a simple gas exchange that bathes the insect’s body in oxygen and expels the carbon dioxide waste.

Insect Respiratory System

For insects, air enters the respiratory systems through a series of external openings called spiracles. These spiracles, which act as muscular valves in some insects, lead to the internal respiratory system which is comprised of a densely networked array of tubes called tracheae.

To simplify the concept of the insect respiratory system, think of it like a sponge. The sponge has small holes that allow water inside to moisten it. Similarly, the spiracle openings allow air into the interior tracheal system bathing the insect’s tissues with oxygen. Carbon dioxide, a metabolic waste, exits the body through the spiracles.​

How Do Insects Control Respiration?

Insects can control respiration to some degree. They are able to open and close their spiracles via muscle contractions. For example, an insect living in a desert environment can keep its spiracle valves closed to prevent moisture loss. This is accomplished by contracting muscles surrounding the spiracle. In order to open the spiracle, the muscles relax.

Insects can also pump muscles to force air down the tracheal tubes, thus speeding up the delivery of oxygen. In cases of heat or stress, insects can even vent air by alternately opening different spiracles and using muscles to expand or contract their bodies. However, the rate of gas diffusion—or flooding the inner cavity with air—cannot be controlled. Due to this limitation, as long as insects continue to breathe using a spiracle and tracheal system, in terms of evolution, they are not likely to get much larger than they are now.

How Do Aquatic Insects Breathe?

While oxygen is plentiful in the air (200,000 parts per million), it is considerably less accessible in water (15 parts per million in cool, flowing water). Despite this respiratory challenge, many insects live in water during at least some stages of their life cycles.

How do aquatic insects get the oxygen they require while submerged? To increase their oxygen uptake in water, all but the smallest aquatic insects employ innovative structures—such as gill systems and structures similar to human snorkels and scuba gear—to pull oxygen in and force carbon dioxide out.

Insects with Gills

Many water-dwelling insects have tracheal gills, which are layered extensions of their bodies that enable them to take in greater quantities of oxygen from water. These gills are most often located on the abdomen, but in some insects, they are found in odd and unexpected places. Some stoneflies, for example, have anal gills that look like a cluster of filaments extending from their hind ends. Dragonfly nymphs have gills inside their rectums.

Hemoglobin Can Trap Oxygen

Hemoglobin can facilitate the capture of oxygen molecules from the water. Non-biting midge larvae from the Chironomidae family and a few other insect groups possess hemoglobin, much like vertebrates do. Chironomid larvae are often called bloodworms because the hemoglobin imbues them with a bright red color.

Bloodworms can thrive in water with exceptionally low oxygen levels. By undulating their bodies in the muddy bottoms of lakes and ponds, bloodworms are able to saturate the hemoglobin with oxygen.

When they stop moving, the hemoglobin releases oxygen, enabling them to breathe in even the most polluted aquatic environments. This backup oxygen supply may only last a few minutes but it’s usually long enough for the insect to move to more oxygenated water.

Snorkel System

Some aquatic insects, such as rat-tailed maggots, maintain a connection with air on the surface through a snorkel-like structure. A few insects have modified spiracles that can pierce the submerged portions of aquatic plants, and take oxygen from air channels within their roots or stems.

Scuba Diving

Certain aquatic beetles and true bugs can dive by carrying a temporary bubble of air with them, much like a SCUBA diver carries an air tank. Others, like riffle beetles, maintain a permanent film of air around their bodies. These aquatic insects are protected by a mesh-like network of hairs that repels water, providing them with a constant air supply from which to draw oxygen. This airspace structure, called a plastron, enables them to remain permanently submerged.


Gullan, P.J. and Cranston, P.S. «The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, 3rd Edition.» Wiley-Blackwell, 2004

Merritt, Richard W. and Cummins, Kenneth W. «An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America.» Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1978

Meyer, John R. «Respiration in Aquatic Insects.» Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University (2015).

How Do Grasshoppers Breathe?

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Welcome to How Do Grasshoppers Breathe

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How Do Grasshoppers Mate?

Grasshoppers mate by engaging in sexual reproduction. During this reproductive process, the male grasshopper inserts a spermatophore, or a packet of sperm, into the female grasshopper’s vagina.

To reach the female’s eggs, the sperm must travel through tiny canals called micropyles. When the sperm reaches its destination, the eggs become fertilized. After fertilization, the female deposits her eggs into the ground. She completes this action using a set of prongs on her ovipositor act, which are located on the posterior of the body. This anatomical tool digs a few centimeters below the earth’s surface and deposits the eggs. The eggs then remain underground for at least ten months. During this period, the eggs remain dormant, or in a sleep stage, until they are ready to hatch in the summer time.

Before reproduction, grasshoppers use singing and pheromones to attract mates. Each grasshopper has a unique song that is created through an action called stridulation. Stridulation occurs when a grasshopper rubs their lower back legs on their forewings to create a clicking or chirping sound. Females sing much softer than the males. Some species of grasshoppers perform elaborate courtship routines using their colorful wings to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

The tracheal breathing system of insects

Insects do not breathe through their mouths as we do. The do not have lungs and their blood, which is a watery, yellowish liquid, does not carry oxygen and carbon dioxide around their bodies.

Insects have a system of tubes, called tracheae, instead of lungs. These tracheae penetrate right through the insect’s body. Air enters the tracheae by pores called spiracles. These spiracles are found on each side of the insect’s abdomen. Each segment of the abdomen has a pair of spiracles.

Insect spiracles

The air passes into the tracheae which branch into smaller and smaller tubes, in a similar way to the bronchioles in our lungs. The tracheae finally come to an end in the tissues which are respiring. Here in the tissues the oxygen is taken from the air in the tracheae. At the same time carbon dioxide enters the tracheae so that it can be expelled from the body.

The process of breathing in insects is slow. Large, active insects, however, may pump their abdomens to help quicken the movement of these gases.

It is interesting to note that the tracheae are supported by strengthening rings, just like the tracheae in our breathing system. The strengthening rings are made of chitin, which is the same material as we find on the outside of the insect.

Scientists think that it is the breathing system of insects which keeps them so small. The insect which has the largest body is the Goliath Beetle which lives in the tropics. This beetle is only 15cm long. It is true that some butterflies and moths have wings which make them bigger, but the wings of an insect do not need to be supplied with oxygen. Most insects are less than one centimetre long.

The spiracles on the sides of the insect’s body can be closed by valves. It is difficult to drown an insect because, when it is under water, it closes the valves. This prevents water entering the tracheae and, with air in its body, the insect will tend to float.

Small insects and insects which are not very active are able to rely on enough oxygen reaching their tissues through their spiracles. Active insects, however, need to speed up the movement of oxygen to their tissues. They pump their abdomens in and out, using muscles. This helps fresh air to enter the tracheae. A locust tends to move its abdomen lengthwise, making it longer or shorter. A honey bee uses a width-wise movement, making the abdomen wider or narrower.

How Do Earthworms Breathe?

Misty S. Bledsoe has been writing since 1995. She specializes in writing about religion, technology and solar concepts, and her articles appear on various websites. She holds a Bachelor of Science in information technology from American Intercontinental University.

Worms breathe through their skin, as they don’t have any lungs or nose. Their mouth is used for eating organic and rotting material along with soil. Breathing through their skin allows them to stay underground for long periods. They also don’t have any eyes or ears but rather sense their way along with chemical and light sensitive cells.

The skin’s moisture plays a key role in how oxygen travels into the worm. The worm exposes itself to oxygen by either lying out in the open or burrowing into the soil. Oxygen meets the dampness of the skin and breaks down to be absorbed through the small tiny blood vessels called capillaries just under the skins surface. The oxygen then travels through these blood streams and is pushed throughout the body with their five larger blood vessels that resemble hearts. Once through the body, the capillaries push the waste of carbon dioxide back out the same capillaries through the skin and away from the worm.

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Worms often spend most time underground or underneath things as their skin has to stay moist. It cannot be allowed to dry out or the pores will not enable oxygen to be broken down and then absorbed. There is usually enough oxygen in the soil to keep worms alive. During rainy times, it is suspected that the ground is so moist, there is not enough oxygen to breathe in so they often come will come to the surface in an effort to avoid suffocating. Worms also come to the surface more at night to avoid the heat of the day. They are unable to breathe underwater as the water blocks off the pores. Staying moist but not wet is the key to their survival.

These little creatures are cold blooded and actually hatch from cocoons rather than being born live. When a worm reproduces, it leaves behind a soft sac of goo in which the necessary fertilizing elements are left behind. After their sack is put into the dirt, the outer part hardens and becomes leathery but remains moist. The embryos grow inside much like that of a chicken in an egg. The nutrients inside the sack supply the growing embryo with the oxygen it needs during that time. When the nutrients run out, the embryo breaks free and begins living in the environment where it begins to receive oxygen directly through the skin.

How do flies breathe?

Insects breathe in a way that is very different from us. Instead of having a central place to gather oxygen (i.e. lungs) and a transport system (i.e. heart, blood) to deliver the oxygen to all of the cells of the body like us, insects have a system of fine branching tubes called a tracheal system that delivers the oxygen directly to each cell in the body. Imagine that you are an oxygen molecule in the atmosphere and you are about to be «breathed» into an insect.

  1. You enter a tiny hole on the insect’s thorax or abdomen called a spiracle. The spiracle is the opening of a long tube called a tracheae.
  2. You proceed down the tracheae, which is a long, air-filled, branching tube.
  3. You continue to move through branches until you reach a tiny, fluid-filled, dead end called a tracheole.
  4. You dissolve in the fluid.
  5. From the fluid, you diffuse or move across the wall of the tracheole into an insect cell such as a muscle cell.

The movement of air through the tracheal system of most insects relies solely on diffusion. Because most insects rely on diffusion, which occurs best over small distances, they cannot get very large. You will not see huge ants, like in the movie «Them,» because enough air could not diffuse that far into their bodies to keep their cells alive. However, some larger insects can use their abdominal muscles to force air in and out of the tracheal system in a limited way.

So, with this system in mind, it would be difficult to strangle a bug. However, if the tracheal system fills with water, it takes much longer for air to diffuse through the system. Therefore, an insect can drown fairly easily.

How Does a Praying Mantis Breathe?

Video of the Day: How a Praying mantis breathes

Praying mantises and other insects obtain oxygen much differently than vertebrates do. Rather than using blood to transport oxygen around their bodies, praying mantises use hollow tubes to draw air into their bodies and oxygenate their cells. Their respiratory system design probably limits their size. They lack lungs and they have green «blood.»

Praying Mantis Principles

Praying mantises are predatory insects found in tropical and temperate environments around the world. Though they exhibit diversity in habitat preference and morphology, all are ambush predators of insects and small vertebrates. Scientists have documented 2,300 living species. Praying mantises use their strong forelegs to capture insects and control them while they use their small mouths to eat them.

Green Blood

Like most other insects — but unlike vertebrates — praying mantises have discrete respiratory and circulatory systems. Rather than have combined circulatory and respiratory systems, with heart, blood and lungs transporting oxygen through their bodies; praying mantises rely on tracheal systems of tubes to provide oxygen to their cells. Because their circulatory fluid does not transport oxygen, it is termed hemolymph, rather than blood. Generally, hemolymph is clear with a yellow or green tint.

Totally Tubular

Praying mantises have a series of small holes along the sides of their bodies. Termed spiracles, these openings introduce oxygen into their bodies. The spiracles open into structures called tracheal tubes. At the end of the tubes are small, thin and moist cells called tracheoles. The oxygen dissolves into the liquid of the tracheoles before diffusing into oxygen-depleted cells. Carbon dioxide — a waste product of metabolism — exits the body by diffusing in the opposite direction. Rather than inhaling and exhaling, praying mantises usually rely on the passive diffusion of respiratory gases. However, they can try to ventilate their tracheal systems by closing some of their spiracles and flexing their abdomens.

Captive Considerations

When keeping a praying mantis as a pet, be sure to give him plenty of ventilation. A 10-gallon aquarium with a screened lid is a good option. Alternatively, completely screened enclosures supply even more ventilation, ensuring your praying mantis always has enough oxygen.

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